The strange priorities of Ugandan leaders

The strange priorities of Ugandan leaders

The Ugandan president’s office has announced that it is requesting 92 billion Ugandan shillings [$39m] in additional funding to run its activities. This comes just five months after State House already asked for a supplementary budget of 66.6bn [$28.3m]. This is, to put it mildly, outrageous.

The request comes just weeks after the government announced that it is refusing to increase spending (except for the security sector). The government had offered to increase teachers’ salaries by only 15 percent, an offer rejected by the teachers, who were demanding a 100 per cent raise.

Here’s more from The Daily Monitor piece:

If approved, the State House budget will balloon to more than Shs158.6 billion [$67.3m] — more than twice the 2011/12 Budget for Mulago National Referral Hospital. This money would meet the Shs75 billion [$31.8m] required to answer teachers’ demands for a 100 per cent salary increment.

(The photo above shows Mulago National Referral Hospital, Uganda’s largest.)

Meanwhile, the northern part of the country is being ravaged by a strange disease referred to as "nodding disease." Of the 7 billion shillings [$2.9m] requested by the Ministry of Health to address the outbreak, the government only released a miserly 100m [$42,436]. The ministry’s supplementary budget for tackling the outbreak is being delayed amid reports of bureaucratic infighting.

This bizarre disease is named after the strange seizures that it causes. The seizures can be triggered by the smell of food. According to the U.S-based Centers for Disease Control, little is known about what causes the disease or how it spreads.

The Daily Monitor article quotes Dr. Scott Dowell, CDC lead investigator, in an interview with the Center for Global Health policy, United States:

The children definitely die with it — it’s not rapidly progressive, but it seems to take hold of them. The nodding is in fact a type of seizure which causes damage on the brain.

Ugandan photojournalist Edward Echwalu wrote a poignant article on the disease, profiling Nancy Lamwaka, a twelve-year-old girl. Her father has to tie her to a tree during the day so she does not wander around and harm herself. At one point she fell into a fire:

Her father’s heart bleeds daily as he goes through the traumatizing routine of tying his own daughter to a tree like an animal. He says only his two pigs receive such treatment.

"It hurts me so much to tie my own daughter on a tree because in our tradition, it’s a taboo and unheard-of. But because I want to save her life, I am forced to. I don’t want her to go loose and die in a fire, or walk and get lost in the bushes, or even drown in the nearby swamps," he says.

Under the tree, she struggles to move towards the direction of the shade as the sun begins to shine hard. She stumbles but moments later, recovers her waning energy and follows the shadow. All along Lamwaka is quiet, looking drowsily at her siblings seated a few meters away. She has not said a word or made a sound since she woke up. You could sense she wants to say something; perhaps invite her two siblings to play with her, but she just looks on, her eyes heavy and mouth effortlessly open, only occasionally shutting to close out preying flies.

Echwalu’s article and photos give the disease a face, showing how it affects the family and community.

Legislators from northern Ugandan are understandably upset by what they see as the blatant squandering of state resources in the face of an epidemic. The Daily Monitor quotes the chairman of the Acholi Parliamentary Group chairman, Reagan Okumu:

If it is true that Shs92 billion is going to State House when our people are suffering with nodding disease without any serious response, may God have mercy on us….

To my colleagues in Parliament, if you approve this money the people of northern Uganda will never forgive you. It does not matter whether State House has already spent the money or not, this money shouldn’t be approved before getting money for the children who are suffering with the nodding disease….

While the different ministries bicker over resources, the state of the afflicted only gets worse.